23 Sep 2021

'Some customers are losing it' - Stress for eateries in level 3

7:30 pm on 23 September 2021

Two days into Auckland's new-found alert level "three-doms," it hasn't been smooth sailing for the re-opened hospitality businesses.

The queue for takeaways under level 3 restrictions in Masterton.

The queue for takeaways under level 3 restrictions in Masterton. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Staff are wrangling customers to follow the strict rules and even copping abuse - while working with a skeleton crew.

Aucklanders have been treating themselves to takeaway coffee, food and treats after five weeks in lockdown.

It's been a tough time and Unite Union's national secretary, John Crocker, said takeaway staff - like essential supermarket and healthcare workers - are bearing the brunt of it.

"Some customers are losing it, they're impatient. They're acting like they're acting like they're almost addicted to some of these products," he said.

"And when you have someone who's been waiting a long time, and they have some bizarre need for this product, they're acting quite inappropriately and irrationally, and it's getting dangerous in some places."

He said the union has referred instances of abuse to the police.

Some fast food joints have been inundated after reopening and the sheer number of customers, coupled with the extra precautions staff have to take to keep safe, is pushing up wait times.

And after five weeks of waiting, a little longer is proving too much for some.

Customers queiung for takeaways at Olafs Cafe. Mt Eden, on Auckland's first day of level 3 after five weeks of lockdown.

Photo: RNZ / Jean Bell

"Some staff are used to getting drunks on Friday and Saturday night, but we're seeing that more widespread, around the clock.

"In a sense, staff are safer, because they've only got drive-thru open and they're inside the building.

"So, you don't have to confront the customers as closely most of the time, but then you're getting heightened aggression.

"So, there's an element of being more safe, and an element of being more exposed at the same time."

The reopening came with a raft of rules for businesses to enforce: contactless pick-up, delivery or drive through only, physical distancing, mandated mask use and contact tracing.

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said Auckland businesses that rely on face-to-face patronage have been completely locked out of trading for 66 of the 544 days since last year's lockdown.

"Even though many of our businesses are welcoming their customers back into the businesses under the distancing rules, the smiles that are across the industry's faces are hiding a lot of anxiety and stress that these business owners have been facing, and are still facing currently, as a result of a pandemic."

Oranna, one of the owners of Olafs Cafe in Mount Eden, isoverjoyed at being able to see customers again under level 3.

Photo: RNZ / Jean Bell

The association has released a roadmap to help the industry after the Covid-19 crisis, after meeting with the Government.

Its eight suggestions include an extension to the wage subsidy and removing GST for dining customers.

On the streets of Auckland's Panmure, cafe owners say the local support is getting them through.

Colombo Cafe manager Buddima told RNZ it was great to see the cafe's regulars coming back in.

"Yesterday was busy, actually, because all the neighbours and locals are supporting us and helping us get back to normal."

For the Cafe With No Name's owner Sharon, the local support has kept her spirits up.

"Yesterday was mad, we have some really loyal customers, and they were all here yesterday wanting coffee and some food.

"We've had to really try and diversify this time around and to kind of go outside the boundaries of what we normally do, providing meal kits and cooked meals."

NZ Alcohol Beverages Council executive director Bridget MacDonald said right now supporting your local means more than ever.

"Having some cash in the till means businesses can keep their staff on board, and we really do need to make sure that people are keeping jobs," she said.

"Businesses have quite high overheads, so if there's money in the till, they can pay their bills.

John Crocker said customers should be prepared for service to be a bit slower.

"Realize that the staff are giving you what you want, and they're doing their best," he said.

"And there will be a delay. There'll be a delay, because there are other customers who are thinking exactly the same thing as you.

"And there'll be a delay because the staff has to keep everyone safe.

"That's part of the cost. - we're not at level 1, this is level 3.

"Yes, you can, kind of, have what you want, but they are serious restrictions.

"You have to understand that and be patient and understanding."

So, next time you're picking up your flat white or fries, spare a thought for the person making it for you.

Follow the rules, be kind - and maybe give them a tip.

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